Israel’s first national unity coalition – the united resistance

For Zion's Sake: On August 23, 10 months after it began, Tenuat HaMeri – Israel’s first national unity coalition – was terminated.

Israeli fighters stand guard in 1948 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Israeli fighters stand guard in 1948 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Despite his promises at the end of the war, throughout World War II prime minister Winston Churchill had not gone out of his way for the Jews. In fact, under his leadership, Britain had denied European Jewry refuge in the one country designated as the solution to their suffering.
Churchill’s late promises mattered even less when the post-war elections swept the Labor party into office and Churchill out. Indeed, they paled in comparison to Labor’s public endorsement of Jewish statehood.
In Palestine, the Histadrut organ Davar hailed British Labor’s victory as “a clear victory for the demands of the Zionists in British public opinion.” David Ben-Gurion rejoiced, “The British workers will understand our aims.”
The good news came at the close of the “Season” – the violent campaign undertaken by the Jewish Agency, Histadrut and Haganah against the Irgun Zvai Leumi, which had in February 1944 announced a revolt against British rule in Palestine.
The election results seemed to confirm the official opposition to the revolt.
The Irgun, however, remained skeptical.
Nevertheless, the Irgun announced that in light of Labor’s promises “we consider it our duty... to give them an opportunity of proving whether they mean... to fulfill their solemn public undertakings.”
But if Labor’s promises would be added to “the many tragic illusions of the Jewish people,” then the Irgun called on the people “To War, War to the End, War till Victory.”
True enough, “the Midsummer Night’s Dream vanished” leaving only “the traditional British fist,” Menachem Begin recalled.
Britain needed to maintain its strategic position in Palestine and economic interests in the Middle East. That required Arab good will.
Even raising the Jewish immigration quota, let alone admitting 100,000 Jewish refugees into Palestine as president Truman demanded, would jeopardize that.
Instead, the new foreign secretary, Ernst Bevin, warned of the consequences of Jews trying to get “to the head of the queue” and soon denied that Britain ever undertook to establish a Jewish state.
The White Paper policy of 1939 remained intact.
Suddenly, those “terrorists” who had been ridiculed, demonized and hunted had been right all along. Polite personal diplomacy and settlement construction alone would not achieve Jewish statehood.
Of course, the establishment had never been wrong. As Terror Out of Zion author J.
Bower Bell described it, they “stole the Revisionists’ analytical clothes, then claimed that they the righteous had always been so garbed.”
Either way, violence was recognized as necessary.
Haganah commander Moshe Sneh, who had threatened the Irgun to stand down before launching the Season, now proposed that the Irgun merge into the Haganah.
Begin, however, wanted Irgun independence in case the Haganah abandoned the revolt. He counter-offered: organizational independence with a joint command to approve and coordinate operations. The Lehi agreed and so did the Haganah. Tenuat HaMeri, the United Resistance Movement, was born.
The coalition was christened by a coordinated attack on the night of October 31, 1945.
The Haganah sabotaged hundreds of points along the railroad and sunk naval patrol boats, the Irgun destroyed a locomotive and damaged another six, the Lehi attempted an attack at a Haifa oil refinery and a number of other targets were hit.
The attacks continued and intensified with bombings, arms raids, sabotage and assaults on British military bases, and police and coastal patrol stations.
The numerous attacks included the destruction and damage of £2,000,000 worth of British aircraft (according to British estimates) by the Irgun in February 1946; the detonation of five bridges in April; bombings on June 10 causing £100,000 in damage to trains and railway lines; and the destruction of 11 bridges six days later.
In response, the Sixth Airborne Division was summoned to Palestine. Heavy naval units guarded the coast. New generals were put in charge. Curfews were enacted. Roadblocks set up. Searches and mass arrests conducted.
Eighty thousand British soldiers and other security forces roamed the country. “Tegart” police forts were common. Barbed wire and sandbag fortifications were established around government and military buildings, including “Bevingrad” in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Anglo-American Committee, intended to bring the US on board with British Palestine policy, toured the country since March. Bevin promised that if its recommendations were unanimous Britain would comply.
Yet in May, when the Committee unanimously recommended the immediate admission of 100,000 Jewish refugees, the government refused to comply.
On June 29, “Black Sabbath,” the British initiated Operation Agatha and arrested close to three thousand Jews, including Jewish Agency leadership, and raided the offices of the Jewish Agency and other official institutions, confiscating large numbers of documents, including evidence of Jewish Agency complicity in the resistance.
The evidence was shipped off to the King David Hotel, the headquarters of the British mandatory administration, which the Irgun had earlier proposed bombing under the codename Operation Chick.
On July 1, the Haganah wrote to the Irgun, “You are to carry out as soon as possible the Chick... Do not publish the identity of the body carrying out the operation.”
On July 22, the date agreed upon, “cracker- bombs” meant to ward off pedestrians were set off near the hotel as the Irgun crew loaded milk cans, labeled “Mines – Do Not Touch,” into the kitchen in the hotel basement. The hotel, The Palestine Post and the nearby French Consulate were called with warnings that the hotel would be bombed in 30 minutes.
A half-hour later the bombs went off and the hotel’s southwest wing, housing the administration offices, collapsed. Though 91 people were killed and 45 wounded, this did not include many who been in the lodging and guest areas.
The operation was a success, but the loss of life was greater than expected, more than the official institutions would accept responsibility for.
The Jewish Agency never adopted the Irgun and Lehi’s “War to the End” philosophy. Many of the Haganah’s attacks focused on targets related to immigration restrictions in order to send a message. Ben-Gurion still believed the British would adopt a pro-Zionist position.
And after Black Sabbath, he began to fear further British retaliation.
After the King David bombing, the British released evidence of Haganah and Jewish Agency participation in Tenuat HaMeri.
General Evalyn Barker issued his infamous order barring soldiers from socializing with Jews and instructing them to “punish the Jews in the manner this race dislikes the most: by hitting them in the pocket.”
Then, a massive two-week search operation was conducted, utilizing “screening” cages, hitting every Jewish home in major centers.
Begin evaded detection by hiding in a tiny hole built into his home for four days with almost no water. Lehi commander Yitzchak Ysernitzky (Shamir) was not as lucky – he was one of the few rebels the British managed to net.
The establishment’s response was to again scapegoat the Irgun. The Haganah’s Kol Israel radio denounced the “dissident’s operation” while the Haganah privately asked the Irgun to assume responsibility for the King David. The leftist papers issued denunciations. Reverting to his pre-Season rhetoric, from Paris Ben-Gurion labeled the Irgun “the enemy of the Jewish people.”
The Irgun refrained from public protest to keep Tenuat HaMeri together. And joint planning continued throughout most of August – until Ben-Gurion overruled Sneh and rejected continued Haganah participation.
On August 23, 10 months after it began, Tenuat HaMeri – Israel’s first national unity coalition – was terminated.
The revolt, however, would go on.
Part V in a series on Revisionist-Zionist history.